If you recall, "Flying Magic" was written on commission for the winner of the Con-or-Bust auction earlier this year...and now one more reader is going to get the chance to commission a new short-short story from me, selecting any character from any of my novels as the protagonist! Winner's choice. :)
You can find the 24-hour auction here on Jim Hines's blog. The minimum bid is $10, and all of the money raised by the auction will go to Transgender Michigan, which runs one of the only transgender helplines in the U.S (available 24/7). It's a resource that's desperately needed by a lot of vulnerable teens and adults.
The auction closes at noon Eastern time on December 8th.
Good luck to everyone who enters! I can't wait to see which character the winner will ask to read about.
Now I'm off to supervise some veeeeeery over-excited little kids in decorating our Christmas tree. Wish me luck! There may be tinsel everywhere by the time we finish... ;)
We need lights in the darkness in December - even in years that aren't like this one.
I may not have the energy to organize that kind of big multi-author, monthlong event every year, but for the last couple of years, I've posted my own December Lights story at the beginning of each December, as a gift to my readers and a thank-you for keeping me company here. I appreciate you guys so much!
This year, it's a Kat, Incorrigible story, and I wrote it by special request. This spring, as part of the Con-or-Bust auction, I offered to write a short-short story about any of the characters from my novels. The winner, Melita Kennedy, asked for a story about Kat all grown up, with children of her own - and it was so much fun to write!
You can read the full story below, and if you want to keep it on your e-reader, you can find the free ebook on Smashwords, iTunes or Kobo. (You can also find it on Amazon, but unfortunately, they haven't price-matched yet, so they're still charging 99 cents/pence for it. I'm sorry! I hope they'll make it free SOON - and in the meantime, you can download the Kindle version from this link.) It should appear on Barnes & Noble within the next couple of days, too.
I hope you guys enjoy this story! I've been really looking forward to sharing it with you.
by Stephanie Burgis
For Melita Kennedy, with thanks.
There was nothing more delightful in the world than completing a successful magical mission and returning to the bosom of my family...
...At least, until I landed in my own bedroom.
“What?” I demanded, as I looked wildly around the room. “What?”
My darling husband, who should have been there at that time of night to greet me and ask all about my mission...was not.
My darling but dangerous children, who should have been sleeping adorably in their own beds for hours, were here instead. And not only that...
“What are you all doing?”
“Oh, really, Mama.” My oldest daughter, Clarissa, rolled her eyes at me with incomparable fifteen-year-old disdain from her perch, cross-legged on my side of the bed, with all of my private journals of magic spread around her. “Isn’t it rather obvious?”
“Wheeeeeeeee!” Archibald, the baby of the family, shrieked with delight as he flew past me, his chubby arms spread wide and his nightgown flapping in the magical breeze.
“Olivia Angeline Ravenscroft!” I was already pointing my finger accusingly as I spun around to where I knew I would find her: my impossible, maddening, beloved middle child, her arms held out, sitting in the chair in the corner of the room and directing her brother in his flight. “Stop that immediately!”
“Mo-ther!” Heaving a heavy sigh, Olivia cast her eyes up to Heaven. It was the same gesture I’d been forced to make a thousand times in the last eight years, each time I faced a new catastrophe of her creation. “Fine,” she said, and crossed her arms. “If that’s what you really want!”
“Argh!” I lunged forward just in time to catch Archibald as he plummeted. He was giggling madly, and his round little form felt particularly delicious in my arms after nearly two days of separation, but my heart pounded in my chest as I clutched him against me and glowered down at his sister. “To your room!” I said. “At once, young lady! And you need to apologize to your brother.”
“I knew you’d catch him,” she muttered. “I would never have let him be hurt. You should know that.” She stuck out her jaw and shifted further back in her seat, digging herself in. “Anyway, I’m not leaving till the others do. Otherwise, it isn’t fair. And you can’t make me!”
It would be wrong to cast a magic working on my own child, I told myself. It really would. Worse than that, it would be undignified.
I was a grown woman and the Head of the ancient Order of the Guardians. Tonight, I’d foiled an entire band of rogue witches in Northumberland, and I hadn’t lost my composure for an instant.
Surely I could face down my own eight-year-old daughter just as calmly.
Dignity, I told myself, breathing deeply. Simple dignity.
Glaring at me, Olivia snapped, “You never let me do anything. You’re the cruelest mother in the entire world!”
“You — ! Oh, thank goodness.” I let out my breath in a whoosh of relief as the dressing room door opened and my husband walked in, rubbing his head with a towel. Alexander’s brown, curling hair was sopping wet, and he was wearing his oldest dressing gown, which I hadn’t seen in months.
“Kat!” His lean cheeks creased with his sudden smile, his serious hazel eyes lit up with unmistakable delight, and warmth filled every inch of me, easing the tension in my shoulders, at the sight of him. “You’re back!” he said. “So you’ve solved the latest crisis?”
“In Northumberland, yes,” I told him. “But have you seen what’s been happening here while I was gone?” I gestured with my free hand at the room around us as I balanced a happily babbling Archibald on my hip.
Elephants had been involved in tonight’s exciting adventures, apparently…or possibly lamps. Or lampreys. It was a little hard to tell, sometimes, with Archibald.
“Ah. Well.” Alexander’s lips quirked. “The children have been missing you, you see. So they all wanted to wait up in case you returned tonight.”
“And you let them?” I frowned. “But...” My eyes narrowed as I saw my husband trade a sidelong look with our oldest daughter, who was suddenly sitting absolutely still on the bed...and looking extremely guilty. “Oh, Lord,” I said. “What did they do to their poor nursemaid this time?”
“Ah...” Alexander cleared his throat.
I looked again at his frayed old dressing gown. “Is that why your hair is wet? And what happened to your usual dressing gown?”
“Children,” said Alexander, “it’s very late. Why don’t you say goodnight to your mother now, so that we can all get some sleep?”
Clarissa shot up from the bed with visible relief. “Goodnight, darling Mama!” she said sweetly. “I’ll put the little ones to bed myself, if you like.”
“Mmm,” I said warily.
Oh, Lord. Had we just lost another nursemaid?
I looked at the implausibly saintly expression on Clarissa’s face, and I sighed.
Oh, yes. We had definitely lost this latest nursemaid, too.
But because my oldest daughter was on her very best behavior, she actually let me catch her close for a hug, which was a rare and precious gift nowadays. I buried my face in her soft hair for one long, sweet moment.
How could our first baby already be so big? Clarissa would be taller than me within just a few months. Not only that, she’d be coming out in Society only a few years later, and then...
Smiling angelically, she slipped out of my arms and reached for Archibald. “Time for bed now, silly.”
“No! No bed!” Archibald glowered fiercely at her, clinging to my neck. “Want Mama! Want elephants! Want fly!”
“Go to bed now, little elephant,” I said briskly, and I gave him a smacking kiss on the cheek. “No more flying.”
And speaking of that...
Bracing myself, I turned back to where Olivia was still sitting in the corner with her arms tightly crossed.
I knew that stubborn tilt to her chin. How many times had I held myself in that position as I’d waited for one of Stepmama’s lectures?
If there was one thing even more aggravating than rogue witches, it was the suspicion that possibly — just possibly — my own stepmother might actually have been correct about a few things...or at least, that her reactions to some of my own past antics might have been understandable.
I sighed and let all the rest of my tension flood out of me. What was the point of feeling outraged, after all? It had been a very long night, to say the least, but some things were still crystal clear.
Olivia had inherited every bit of my stubbornness. She had inherited Alexander’s beautiful hazel eyes. She had the combined Guardian powers that she had inherited from both of us, filling her slight frame to overflowing, and she’d woken to them far earlier than either of us had. She filled me with terror for her safety every day...
And as I looked down now at her skinny, stubborn figure and glimpsed the fragile vulnerability in her face, I felt as if my chest might just explode with the love that swelled irrepressibly through it.
“Just send Olivia down to me once she’s apologized for what she did,” Clarissa caroled back, and closed the door behind herself with a thunk.
Olivia’s shoulders hunched even more. I winced.
Some parts of sisterhood were, unfortunately, universal.
Alexander tilted his head, looking pained. “Kat, perhaps — ”
“Shh.” I waved him back and sank to my knees in front of our most challenging child. Meeting her fierce gaze, I wrapped my arms tightly around her.
“No more flying your brother,” I told her. “Not ever. Not even if he pleads for it! But if you tell him tomorrow morning that you’re sorry, and if you’re very, very good with your new nursemaid once we find one...”
“Yes?” Her voice was small, and her own arms didn’t budge from their defensive position, but she nestled forward into my chest just as she had when she was a baby...a baby who couldn’t help sending silverware magically flying through the room and frightening herself with every infant tantrum.
I met Alexander’s worried gaze over her head and slid him a mischievous wink. “Then perhaps we can have a flying expedition of our own one night,” I whispered. “What would you think of that?”
“Really?” Olivia’s head jerked up. Her face shone with wonder and excitement. “You would fly with me, Mama? You wouldn’t be too busy to come with me? Or tell me I’m not allowed to do any magic of my own?”
Alexander sighed and shook his head, but he couldn’t hold back his smile. “Will you at least try not to be witnessed doing it?”
“Of course we won’t let anyone see us,” I said. “We can do some invisibility practice at the same time. And...” I looked back at Olivia and touched her cheek gently. “How could I ever be too busy to train the newest member of our Order?”
“Oh, Mama!” Olivia breathed.
Parenthood might be the most challenging mission I had ever undertaken.
But at this particular moment, as my magical heir threw her arms around me, it was also by far the most satisfying.
Get the ebook from Kobo US | Kobo UK | Smashwords | iTunes | Amazon US | Amazon UK
Or download the Kindle version from this link.
(And do check back at B&N - the free ebook should appear there soon!)
This weekend, though, I finally downloaded the SelfControl app to cut the link, because in a time when a LOT of us are feeling anxious, that constant feed of (completely justified) anxiety was sending my own emotions skyrocketing out of control.
Now I'm using SelfControl to turn off Twitter and Facebook for all but half an hour a day. Half an hour is long enough for me to check in; it's enough time for me to see most of my friends' activities online and also keep up with the serious issues that people are bringing up for our attention.
(I'm also trying not to let myself rely on social media for my news, as I've done too often in the past. Here in Wales, I'm reading The Guardian. If I were in the US, I'd personally be reading The New York Times. No matter where you get your news, there's a really useful list that's recently been posted - you can read it about it here - of "False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and/or Satirical “News” Sources". It's definitely worth checking - and it includes both right- and left-wing sites, including some that I've read in the past.)
Every day by the end of that social media session, I try to take at least one positive action (whether that's phoning my congressman, donating to a cause, signal-boosting a petition, or...) to fight against my biggest fears.
But then I turn off the feed, because otherwise, I get so overwhelmed that I can't do anything but worry. And that's no good to anyone.
The next time I buy a piece of jewelry with words on it, the words may well be: Write Your Own Escape. Writing has been what's saved me this past week. I'm over a third of the way through my novella Snowspelled, which has the fun, frothy feel of a grown-up Kat story (although it's set in a different, alternate historical version of Regency England with completely different characters). It's full of powerful women, magic, sisterhood, families, romance, and hope. I'm trying to write as much as possible of it before the edits for my next MG book arrive.
I hope that when it's ready for you guys to read (sometime next year), it'll give you a feeling of escape and hope as well.
And when it comes to the book of mine that just came out - Congress of Secrets was reviewed in Paul DiFilippo's column for Barnes & Noble, and it's a wonderful review! He called it "The Count of Monte Cristo meets Darth Vader," which of course made me happy - and here's a snippet from the review:
Burgis’s recreation of period Vienna is sensual and vivid, stemming from much good research and from personal familiarity with the modern city. She does not betray the authenticity of her historical figures, and renders her imagined folks thickly enough to go toe-to-toe with the big guys. The reunion and subsequent love-hate relationship between Carolina and Michael is sweet and teasingly well done. Suspense and thrills abound in what is essentially a caper novel. But Burgis also layers in some potent subtext about authoritarianism and the freedoms we take for granted.
You can read the full review here.
And if you're in the UK, you can enter to win an advance copy of The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart here.
And that's not even the full list of my fears in the wake of this news.
This stuff is HARD - and whether or not you share my personal political perspective, I hope you can understand the fear that so many people are feeling right now.
I was trying to figure out, yesterday, what I could do - what small, positive steps I could take to combat those fears and not feel helpless.
The first thing I did was make a donation to the American Civil Liberties Union, which has promised to fight for the constitutional rights of ALL Americans.
Another organization doing important work right now (and accepting donations) is the National Immigrant Justice Center, whose mandate is to protect human rights and provide access to justice for all immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers.
The Huffington Post made a good list of other positive actions people can take right now.
And I'm going to take one other small personal action. I'm going to go back to writing, after my day of crying yesterday.
What got me through the last 36 hours was Lois McMaster Bujold's Penric series. I read #2 and #3 over the course of that time and got to sink into a smart, absorbing fantasy world told from an extraordinarily kind and compassionate perspective. It let me escape my fears and remember that kindness is real and hope is important.
I may only be able to take small positive steps myself. But one of those small positive steps, for me, is trying to give other people comfort and reassurance with my own writing.
Here we go.
Today, it's finally out in the world. It's been a long and varied journey...but I'm so happy to have arrived here now!
Of course, I had to take it out today to celebrate publication day in exactly the most appropriate style:
(Coffee is discussed...let's just say MORE THAN ONCE in this book. ;) There are multiple scenes set in coffeehouses, too. Only appropriate, for any book set in Vienna!)
This is both my darkest and my most romantic book, and my love letter to Vienna. I really hope you guys enjoy it!
You can buy it in the US and Canada from Amazon US/CA, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound; in the UK, it's already in stock at The Book Depository and the paperback should be back in stock at Amazon UK soon. (The ebook is already available there, of course.)
Please let me know what you think of it! (And if you have time to write a review - good or bad - on Amazon or elsewhere, I will appreciate it so much.)
Thanks so much for sharing this journey with me, guys!
...which was based in many ways on Vienna, which brings us right back to...
Congress of Secrets comes out just one week from today! I am jittery with excitement and anxiety! So far, the industry reviews have been really good, but of course I can't wait for people to be able to pick it up off the shelves (or on their e-readers). I spent my child-free time this morning writing a guest post for Mary Robinette Kowal's blog about my family's century-long love affair with Vienna...and basically, this book is my love letter to that city. I hope you guys will like it!
And if you happen to be around Bristol (England) and want to pick up a signed copy a few days early - it's just four more days until BristolCon! Patrick and I will both be there this coming Saturday, and I'll bring a few published copies of CoS along with me. I'll also be doing a 5-minute reading (at 12:50) and taking part in a panel, "Writing Through the Storm," at 3pm. Here's the panel description on the program:
Writing fiction can provide emotional catharsis and writers often draw on challenging life events in their work. How does writing support you through challenging life events and how do such events enrich or distract from people’s writing? How has reading fiction helped our panel to navigate through life’s dark places?
The other panel members are Gareth Powell, Neil Beynon, Joanne Hall and Kate (KS) Turner, and I'm really looking forward to it.
Of course I'll also be spending some time just hanging around in the dealer's room or in the hotel bar/restaurant - if you see me, please feel free to come up and say hi or ask for a book to be signed!
Now it's time to dive back into my novella for a (very) quick bout of sneak-writing before it's my turn to take over with the kids again. Wish me luck!
It was exactly two weeks before the publication date for Congress of Secrets.
What could these boxes possibly contain???
Here, let my three-year-old helper show you:
My book! Eeee! Isn't it pretty?
And more to the point: look at Caroline on that front cover! I love, love, love the way this cover portrays her strength, her cool calculation in the midst of high intrigue, and her utter determination to carry her plans through, no matter what.
I finished the (very rough, and VERY different from the final version) first draft of this book on April 6, 2006. It wasn't ready for publication then; I wasn't ready, as a writer, to give it all the layers that this story really deserved.
Now, though, over ten years and six months (and many, many intense re-drafts) after I typed "THE END" in this manuscript for the first time: just look at all those finished copies!
I can't wait to finally share it with you guys. Less than two weeks to go before publication day! :)
Of course, Congress of Secrets is a standalone novel. You certainly don't need to read Masks and Shadows beforehand; it's set 35 years later, in a different city, and there aren't any shared characters between the books. But! If you'd like something else to read before CoS comes out, and you haven't read M&S already...
Check out this Goodreads giveaway for Masks and Shadows! It's open internationally.
And since today is Book Quote Wednesday over on Twitter, here's another quick taste of Congress of Secrets. This week's word was "finger."
Now I'm going to dive back into my new novella for adults, Snowspelled...but I'm also going to take some time to pet my author copies of CoS. Because really, how could I resist? :)
Here's the opening:
It was the finest teahouse in Trevanne; everyone agreed on that. The ancient Dragon Queen’s loyal courtiers would buy their tea nowhere else, for the quality of the tealeaves was unmatched and the blend was one that no other teahouse in the city could provide. The courtiers, all powerful men and women with subtle minds sharpened by decades of scheming, spent many a happy afternoon gathered around the central hearth, spinning political webs over steaming cups of tea while sitting in their favorite armchairs, which had worn over the years into the shapes of their familiar bodies.
The younger, wilder, and more dissatisfied members of the court, who cared far less for tealeaves than for wine, still followed the aging crown prince’s lead in spending long raucous evenings at the teahouse, bypassing the fire-lit rooms inside for the pleasures of the lush, beautifully laid-out open courtyard filled with lanterns and pink-blossomed magnolia trees, where the most popular musicians in the city played nearly every night. The fires burned cozily within the teahouse, keeping it the perfect temperature, never too hot even at the height of summer; the magnolias bloomed year-round in the warm inner courtyard even when three feet of snow piled up in the streets outside.
It had been the finest teahouse in Trevanne for generations, by then. No one thought to question its magic anymore. The owner had seen to that, long ago, with promises and threats and a contract that had nearly been forgotten, by now.
But that contract had not expired...
Read (or listen to) the full story for free. (And if you want a copy to keep on your e-reader, you can buy the ebook of this magazine issue for just 99 cents!)
Of course, like almost every story I've written in the past several years, I wrote this one as a Christmas gift for one of my brothers - this time my brother Dave, who asked for an Agatha Christie-style story. Er...I swear, my concept STARTED there. It really did! It just kind of accidentally morphed into something else by the time I started writing it - something dark and creepy and magical, with dangerous dragons and tea, along the way! Oops. ;)
(This is kind of like the time Dave asked for a magical traveling circus story for Christmas and it turned into a creepy historical traveling salesman story instead. Allllllmost the same??? Kinda?)
I really hope you guys enjoy it. Let me know what you think of it!
Since I sent out an author newsletter today announcing this story and also (very belatedly) announcing my last story publication, "Pack Dynamics," which has a very different (lighthearted urban fantasy) tone (it's my werewolves-in-Pittsburgh story!) - and which was written as a Christmas gift for my other brother - it's struck me hard just how lucky I am that I have brothers who actually request short stories from me as Christmas presents.
I really, really enjoy writing short stories, and there was a while when they made up the bulk of my writing income, so I wrote a LOT of them - but ever since I started actually selling the novels that I wrote, short fiction has felt like a side-indulgence that I can't necessarily justify spending my writing time on. So if I didn't have brothers, I might never write any anymore, and that would be sad (for me)! But I can absolutely justify writing short stories as gifts for people I care about, and I love doing that.
Thanks, Ben and Dave! I really, really appreciate you guys - and your patience when the stories I write aren't exactly what you asked for. And I'm ready for this year's Christmas-prompts any day now! :)
Below the surface of Burgis’ tale of intrigue, political tension, the dark arts and Vienna’s history lies a multi-layered story that is a perfect combination of romance, historical fiction and fantasy. The lush tapestry includes fictional and historical personages, actual events and surprising elements of magic that capture the imagination and chill the soul. Burgis displays wonderful storytelling and a gift for the imaginative.
You might not be able to believe just how many times I have re-read both of those reviews as publication day approaches. ;)
The funny thing is, Congress of Secrets is going to be my fifth published novel. There was a long time in my life - reaching up until quite recently - when getting five books published seemed like a fantasy too good to ever come true. "Five books" sounded like such a solid number to me - the number that would make me feel like a really established author. Surely an author with five books out wouldn't ever feel insecure anymore?
Well. Hahaha. Anyway!
The best cure for writer-nerves is always, always to do more writing. Unfortunately, ever since I sent off Draft 1.2 of my MG spies-and-fairies book to my UK editor just under three weeks ago, I'd been feeling a bit lost. I'd spent the last year frantically racing to meet one deadline after another (which was both the up- AND the downside of having 3 books + 1 big freelance project published in less than 12 months!) and once I hit that final deadline, I just FLOPPED. The creative well was empty!
But I hate not writing. I mean, I really hate it. So I wrote an essay for one exciting submissions call; I wrote a few guest blog posts; I played with two or three different random book openings just for practice and to keep my hand in. (That kind of practice-writing feels a lot like playing scales on the piano; it's never going to be exciting, but if you don't keep your muscles trained that way, you won't have much luck playing your next concerto in public!) I'd written the first 1000 words of an adult novella a while back, and that was clicking REALLY hard for me (I love the heroine! I love the voice!), but somehow I couldn't quite move past its first scene to figure out the rest of the larger plot.
You never know what will be the key to finally escaping one of those creative dry spells...but this time, for me, it was a gift from a friend.
Back when I was powering through my rewrites of my first rough draft of The Storyteller's Secret (my MG spies-and-fairies novel), I posted on Facebook about my progress for the sake of public accountability. One of my friends cheered me on there and promised she'd send me a reward if I got it done on time.
And look what arrived last week:
Gorgeous butterfly nail wraps! They were such a perfect gift for my spies-and-fairies novel. I laughed out loud with delight when I saw them! I didn't end up putting them on until last night. But then...
Ohhhhh, do I love having butterfly nails! I smile every time I look down at my glittery, magical nails. They're so fun and magical - the perfect cheer-me-up combination!
And this morning, when I was staring at my computer screen at the same opening scene I'd stared at many times before in the last three weeks, uselessly trying to figure out what happened next...I caught sight of my butterfly nails. And I thought: Wait a second. It needs to be more magical! THAT'S it!
I grabbed some headphones. I turned on an album (which is now my soundtrack for the project). I started to scribble notes...
And then pretty soon I'd typed 699 words of my novella (working title Snowspelled), aided by that perfect visual reminder of just how fun and magical I wanted the story to feel.
I may never stop feeling pre-publication nerves, as a writer...but there's nothing that feels better than writing and sharing my stories with other people.
And I'm so grateful for friends who help with that! :)
And look what we came back home to: my North American ARCs for The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart!
I love them. And a quick reminder: I'm going to be giving away an ARC of TDwaCH (either British or North American - whichever the winner prefers) with my next author-newsletter, which should be going out sometime in the next week. So, if you'd like to be entered in that giveaway, make sure you've signed up for my newsletter! (People who've already subscribed will be automatically entered in the giveaway. No extra work needed!)
On the adult end of my novels, Congress of Secrets will be published just 4 weeks from today - and you can read Chapter One free online NOW at The Book Smugglers! You can also enter to win a giveaway there for an early copy.
And this week the fantastic people at Serial Box (which publishes AMAZING serialized stories in various genres) let me write a post for them about three of my own very favorite series (Squirrel Girl, Doctor Who, and the Gilmore Girls). What about you guys? What are your own favorites? I'd love to hear about them in comments either on that post or here!